Hello and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes. Today, we revisit our, frankly nigh-never-ending series about South Africa with a sandwi-What’s that? What do you mean “He didn’t make it?” HE “GOT BUSY”? Let me get this straight: Real Jon got vaguely interested in South African cuisine based on ONE sandwich, and a RELISH, and after making my ass write about fookin’ South Africa for half a god-damn month, he just never makes the ORIGINAL DAMN SANDWICH?! I HAVE BEEN ON SOUTH AFRICA’S DICK HARDER THAN NEILL FUCKING BLOMKAMP FOR A FORTNIGHT, AND I DON’T GET MY GODDAMN PAY-OFF?!!
Fine, fuck it. I’m in three different kinds of physical discomfort, so why not? I’m here to suffer. What’s he got, then? What’re we covering? Cake? A chocolate cake? With no discernible history, a name basic enough to defy the very concept of etymology, and no real story? Mary and all the Saints in Heaven, this son of a bitch is TRYING to piss me off, isn’t he? Fine. Whatever, let’s do this shit. Today, it’s Chocolate Zucchini Cake, I hate my life, and I need like, 12 aspirin.
"Why take 12 aspirin, Jon, when you can knock yourself out with just 3 Aleve?"
Screw you, Morbid Product Placement Jon.
Pissing Me Off From A to Z.
So, chocolate zucchini cake. It sounds insane, I know. The word salad ravings of a madman held in the cells beneath the Culinary Institute of America, for those students who just can’t…crack it. Was that the best pun there? Maybe “For those culinary eggheads who ended up a little…cracked?” Look, there’s a lot of options. A “Target-rich environment” as far as food puns go. Or “Parfait-rich”, as the case may be. Nope, that one was a step too far.
Anyway, it’s really not all that crazy: as I alluded to in my culinary compendium of Baking, the difference between a cake and a quick bread is pretty narrow, and I’m certain many of you have had zucchini bread.
I'm certain many of them started off as un-impressive looking as this.
So, yeah, while it may sound weird, it’s actually pretty understandable. So….nothing really interesting there. Shit. Um…Word Nerd Jon, what’s the etymology of zucchini? Is that cool enough to hold people’s attention?
Glad you asked, “Main Writer Jon”, in our ever-expanding cast of internal mental facets of me. Really starting to look like the bridge to the Enterprise up here. The answer, you’ll be so thrilled to know, is “No.” It’s not interesting. “Zucca” is Italian for squash, and “-ini” means “Little”. It’s named “little squash”, because it’s not edible if you let it grow to full size. (Or, rather, it’s edible, it just sucks to eat.) That’s it. This is like, “fundamentals of food naming 101”. Screw it, this is Food Naming 98, the remedial course.
Shit. Okay, can we go deeper? Like, “zucca’s” a kind of weird word, why does Italian use so many z’s? They’re pretty rare in English, but all over the place in Italian.
Umm…We COULD, but that’s actually going to be a pretty big mess. Like, you just spoke like there’s ONE Italian language, which is wrong. Because, remember, for centuries, Italy was comprised of City-states, that all developed their own cultures and lingual inflections. Literally, Coriscan, Venetian, Italian, Sardinian, Sicilian AND Corsican are all legally different languages. In fact, there are 34 languages and dialects spoken in Italy, and Italian only became the official language in 1999. There are two dialects in LOMBARDY, a region two thirds the size of MAINE, of “Eastern Lombardy” and “Western”. There’s a town with its own language. Literally one town. 40,000 people.
Holy shit, that’s insane.
Yeah, it’s actually mutually unintelligible with Italian; that’s what makes it a distinct language. It’s like trying to understand a full Louisiana Creole: while some of the words are the same, it’s a different language. (Lousiana Creole is actually more French than English.) Fun fact: the town itself is, by tradition, supposedly founded by Diomedes.
Wait, THE Diomedes? Like, our literal favorite Greek hero, wounder of multiple Gods during the Trojan War, including the God of War himself? This is HIS town? Sweet. But not super interesting to anyone who isn’t us. …Alright, I guess there’s nothing else to do, it’s time to be honest with our emotions. But first, let me sleep on it. Monday Morning Jon, this is on you now.
Genuinely Over-thinking it
I’m not going to lie to you, dear readers: I’m in a bit of a weird place, right now. Last week, as you may recall, I got all mopey and sad about how things have changed since I did a show fresh out of college. While I have no idea how you all took it, I talked with Alan, my friend and the silent partner of the site this year, and he liked it. He commended my “genuine” tone, and suggested I explore being genuine more.
And last night, as I started to write this post, I found myself with a strange issue. See, when I come out to write for you guys, I try and ensure I have a level head. The best comedy, I’ve found, is produced when you are comfortable. And, for some reason, last night I wasn’t comfortable. I had a seething inside me, an ongoing storm. And as I jokingly screamed at myself last night, I found that it spoke to that storm within me, and I came to a conclusion: I hate these zucchini.
These ones, specifically. And yes, I know the one on the left is the adorably named "Patty-Pan Squash" and not a zucchini, but he hangs out with a bad crowd, so he's in it too.
Not in culinary terms. I actually quite like zucchini as a food. No, I was furious at these zucchini in particular, because they served as an emblem of something that’s been building inside me for some time: I’m pissed off. I have been for some time, and I’ve had to keep swallowing it, and swallowing it, and now, I’m just fucking full.
Before I continue, I should probably warn you all, I don’t think I’m going to get off this topic in under four to five hundred words, so me losing my shit is probably going to be the rest of the post until the recipe. So, you know, if you want to make it, I will say now: the recipe is good. It’s a simple cake that’s impressively chocolate-y. It’s almost fudge-like in depth of chocolate, and since the cake uses 2 cups of grated zucchini, it’s almost healthy for you!
Kinda looks like an owl made out of lawn clippings.
Back to the rant: as I reflected on my feelings of impotence and sorrow from last week, I found a sort of building ebb-tide under them: anger. And, last night, thinking about it, it became clear where that anger comes from: helplessness. Or “lack of control”, I guess. And, since most who know me will tell you I’m a very free-spirited, easy-going guy; it may take some explanation on why losing control is making me so mad.
Now, being mad isn’t easy for me. Partly this is because I’m very aware of my size when I’m mad: I’m a 6’2” 300 pound man with a full beard. And that self-awareness compromises my ability to fully express my anger, as I don’t want to scare or hurt others just because I’m being emotional. My frazzled temper also makes it difficult to properly parse what I want to say or communicate, so I get angry at my anger for making me less articulate. I’ve been told, by a long-time friend I trust, that my anger is incredibly off-putting, not because I’m stomping around and screaming, but because the tight, harsh control evident in my posture, words, and tone, is so vastly different than my normal actions as to be jarring and alien. But I am mad, because I have no other emotion to be. And the first reason is potentially the most painful.
When I moved out, I lived for several years with multiple roommates and for several years alone. With my roommates, we were all of comparable experience: everyone was, in essence, equal. Yes, over time, we learned who wouldn’t do which chore, and who was best at which errand, but we trusted each other. Living on my own, I trusted myself. I was the manager for a building of people who trusted me, I worked for people who implicitly and explicitly trusted my judgment.
Then again, I willing use funky-looking tools like this, so maybe they were wrong to do so.
My parents do not, in many ways, trust me. This is to be expected, really: as movies, books, and so many other things love to tell you, you will always be, in some ways, a child to your parents. My condition is just exaggerated, because of bad timing: my parents have, in essence, never seen me confident and in-control, because I only became those things when they weren’t around. I only got into theatre my senior year of high school. They’ve seen maybe 4 of the 50+ plays I’ve worked on, maybe 4 of my dozens of improv shows. They doubt my foundational knowledge of various tasks, as I learned to drive from a friend in college and I got my first, second, third and fourth job in a town across the state from them. In their presence, I am infantilized. My family has two cars. I am not trusted to drive the better one of them, despite my four-years younger brother having their confidence to do so.
Compounding this is the over-looming weight on our lives: my father’s illness. Another thing beyond my control, as of course it is. However, what’s also beyond my control, but constantly crushing my life, is the reactions to it. My father has gained a veto vote for any action, overruling meals, trips, everything. And, again, we see my anger becoming compromised: of course I can’t be really mad at my father, who is suffering through chemo and radiation to fight his cancer, from making demands for foods he knows he can eat without getting sick, or stating that he’s too tired to do something/go somewhere. Those are his prerogatives as a patient in need of care. I CAN, I feel, be mad at him for continuing to use fucking chewing tobacco while UNDERGOING CHEMO FOR CANCER.
The other reaction that’s weighing on me is the joint one of my father and my mother: see, both of my parents address their issues through action. Not against the issue itself, mind you, but by harnessing their frustrations into attacking some side project. And so it is that, since my father’s cancer diagnosis, we started raising chickens, and tore up half the back lawn, and built raised garden beds to grow a vegetable garden out back. My dad approves the plans so “my mom has something to distract her” she proposes the plans so “he has something to distract him”, and yet, come the day, it’s my brother and I laying the bricks, building the shit, tending to the chickens, cooking dinner, planning dinner only to have it vetoed, re-organizing the furniture, being told we did it wrong, despite there being no RIGHT way to do it, and so on. And I don’t even have a real right to claim anger at these things, because most of the time, it’s NATE who gets roped into the actual physical labor of them.
He even played a small role in making this very cake!
He dialed a phone, but still, he was technically 50% of the team.
And that’s why I hate these fucking zucchini, planted in a raised bed in a patch of dirt Nate and I are expected to eventually surround with brick. Zucchini that overgrew their bed and pushed out the other plants, that I am constantly told to make a plan to cook, and I should make a plan for the fennel and the peppers, and how to improve the chicken coop that our dad bought without consulting anyone, and the room I’m supposed to organize without removing the giant CRT tv we never use, or sell the drum set without letting people know where we live and with unreliable access to the only car big enough to haul it. These zucchini represent every event that has pissed me off in the last six fucking months. They’re the emblem of my lack of control and constant pressure to perform.
But, hey, at least the cake was fine. So, progress, I guess.
THURSDAY: SERIOUSLY, NO IDEA. I MAY TAKE A SICK DAY, BECAUSE WE HAVE FAMILY VISITING. LIKE, RIGHT NOW. AS I WRITE THIS. I SHOULD PROBABLY GO SAY HI. OH GOD THAT TOOK AN HOUR, NOW THIS POST IS GONNA BE LATE.
Chocolate Zucchini Cake
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
½ c cocoa powder
2 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
¾ c softened butter/margarine/oleo
2 c sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
½ c milk.
1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Stir together the first 6 ingredients.
2. Cream the butter and sugar together. Use a pastry cutter, a hand mixer, whatever. Add the eggs and vanilla, and incorporate them. Then mix in the grated zucchini.
3. Now, mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, adding the milk occasionally to help keep the flour mixture from poofing up into your face and onto your counters during stirring.
4. Grease a 9 by 13 pan, or a bundt pan, and pour the mixture in. Bake for about 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.